Ryan Fitzpatrick Is Playing His Best Football as an NFL Starter
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg all share one common thread: Harvard.
A school like Harvard is known for its academia, and the above all are examples of that showing in different fields.
None, however, offered the beard or athletic prowess of another Harvard attendee: Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Fitzpatrick is using his brains differently than most Harvard attendees. He entered the season as the backup in New York; the expectation was that he would help with the development of Geno Smith. Instead, IK Enemkpali threw a monkey wrench into that plan when he broke Smith's jaw before the season began, giving Fitzpatrick the starting job.
Since becoming the starter, Fitzpatrick has run with the job and not looked back as he is now definitively entrenched as the Jets' starter.
Let's take a closer look to get a proper perspective on how Fitzpatrick's success this season fits in with the rest of his career.
Before Chan Gailey coached Fitzpatrick, the quarterback looked like a fish out of water as a professional. In 2008 and 2009 with the Bengals and Bills, Fitzpatrick completed 348 passes for 3,327 yards, 17 touchdowns, and 19 interceptions on 599 attempts. In total, Fitzpatrick's 658 drop backs led to a 58.09% completion percentage, 5.55 yards per attempt, and a touchdown to interception ratio worse than 1:1.
Fitzpatrick's traditional statistic inefficiency was mirrored in our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric. In both 2008 and 2009, 34 quarterbacks dropped back to pass at least 200 times. On 409 drop backs in 2008, Fitzpatrick ranked 33rd in Passing NEP (-63.74), and on 249 drop backs in 2009, he ranked 27th in Passing NEP (-39.00).
In both years he posted the 31st ranked Passing NEP per play (-0.16).
Although Fitzpatrick was terrible in these years, he does not deserve all of the blame. In Cincinnati, his leading receiver was T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who posted 92 receptions, 904 yards, and 4 touchdowns on 137 targets while Chad Johnson battled back through injury and selfish antics.
In Buffalo, an older Terrell Owens was the leading receiver as he posted 55 receptions, 829 yards, and 5 touchdowns on 109 targets.
Houshmandzadeh finished 2008 ranked 19th in Reception NEP (84.63) -- among 35 receivers with at least 100 targets -- and Owens ranked 26th in Reception NEP (65.17) in 2009 -- among 29 receivers with at least 100 targets. Houshmandzadeh ranked 26th in Reception NEP per target (0.62), and Owens ranked 24th in Reception NEP per target (0.60).
While Fitzpatrick's receivers did minimal to help him in first two years starting, Fitzpatrick did little to make himself seem like a viable starter.
First Gailey Era
After his first year in Buffalo, Fitzpatrick remained the starter as Chan Gailey became the new head coach; they both lasted from 2010 to 2012 in Buffalo.
Over these three years, Fitzpatrick completed 914 passes for 10,232 yards, 71 touchdowns, and 54 interceptions on 1,515 attempts. On 1,590 drop backs, Fitzpatrick showed an improved completion percentage (60.33%), yards per attempt (6.75), and touchdown to interception ratio (1.31:1).
His advanced metrics improved accordingly with his traditional statistics. In his three years with Gailey, Fitzpatrick posted Passing NEPs of 10.39, 1.68, 14.69, ranking 22nd out of 34 quarterbacks with at least 200 drop backs, 21st out of 35, and 21st out of 38 each year, respectively.
His 0.02, 0.00, and 0.03 Passing NEP per play metrics yearly ranked the same.
His leading receiver each year in Buffalo was Steve Johnson, who posted his only 1,000-yard seasons in the three years he played with Fitzpatrick. In all three years, Johnson ranked in the top-20 for both receiving yards and Reception NEP. While Johnson was never a superstar, his time with Fitzpatrick and Gailey helped forecast future success the tandem could have together.
In his time playing for Gailey, Fitzpatrick showed the necessary improvement to make him seem like a competent starter in the NFL. Although his statistics and analytics did not rank among his best peers, the significant development he made showed he had potential for sustained success.
In the two years following his time with Gailey, Fitzpatrick started in both Tennessee and Houston. Fitzpatrick threw 414 completions for 4,937 yards, 31 touchdowns, and 20 interceptions on 662 attempts. His 705 drop backs resulted in an increased completion percentage (62.54%), yards per attempt (7.46), and touchdown to interception ratio (1.55:1).
Per usual, his metrics progressed accordingly. Of 39 quarterbacks in 2013, Fitzpatrick ranked 17th in Passing NEP (33.79), and the following year, his Passing NEP (28.12) ranked 18th out of 37 quarterbacks.
In 2013, he improved on past Passing NEP per play metrics as he posted a 0.09, and he followed that up with a 0.08 Passing NEP per play in 2014.
Fitzpatrick helped Kendall Wright to his best statistical year, as he posted 94 receptions, 1,079 yards, and 2 touchdowns on 140 targets. Although it was his best year -- among 37 receivers with over 100 targets -- Wright ranked 26th in Reception NEP (80.09), and his 32nd-ranked Reception NEP per target (0.58) was worse.
In 2014, Fitzpatrick finally worked with a star receiver: DeAndre Hopkins. Hopkins produced 76 receptions, 1,210 yards, and 6 touchdowns on 127 targets as he was preparing for this year's superstardom breakout. Hopkins ranked 17th out of 40 receivers with at least 100 targets in Reception NEP (96.06) and 15th in Reception NEP per target (0.76).
As Fitzpatrick maintained his success without Gailey, he left intrigue as to what more he could produce with Gailey.
With the Jets, Fitzpatrick once again plays for Gailey. In 370 drop backs, Fitzpatrick has completed 210 of his 359 passing attempts for 2,476 yards, 20 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions. While his completion percentage (58.5%) and yards per attempt (6.90) have regressed towards his numbers in his first tenure under Gailey, he has again improved his touchdown to interception ratio (1.82:1).
Of the 39 quarterbacks with at least 100 drop backs, Fitzpatrick ranks 17th in Passing NEP (41.94), and he ranks 19th in Passing NEP per play (0.11); both values are career highs for Fitzpatrick.
Having both Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker as his receivers is bolstering Fitzpatrick's overall production. Marshall has 71 receptions for 938 yards and 9 touchdowns on 118 targets, and Decker -- proving he is not a product of the Manning effect -- has 51 receptions for 700 yards and 8 touchdowns on 85 targets.
Among the 49 receivers with at least 60 targets, Marshall ranks 7th (80.12) and Decker ranks 13th (72.21) in Reception NEP. In terms of efficiency, Decker ranks 5th (0.85) and Marshall ranks 29th (0.68) in Reception NEP per target.
While Fitzpatrick is enjoying success this year, there is some risk in his play, as he is still a more turnover prone than the ideal quarterback, and it shows. His Passing Success Rate (43.51%) ranks 33rd. Under half of his passes lead to a positive Net Expected Points value. This value leads to believe that his success could drop off some going forward, but he posted his best Passing Success Rate (46.79%) with Gailey in 2011, showing that he can turn this around and improve even if he's never one of the most consistent passers in the league.
With the help of a great supporting cast at receiver and Gailey as his coach, Fitzpatrick is putting together his best year as a professional quarterback. Fitzpatrick projects as our 11th best fantasy football quarterback for the rest of the season.
Fitzpatrick is at the very least a streamable quarterback weekly with the right matchups as he is towards the bottom of the QB1s for the rest of the year.
Enjoy the bearded Harvard graduate while he is successful in the league, as he is quite the anomaly in the league.